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Your Stories: Pet-Related Scams

close-up of tabby

Sadly, the world is full of unscrupulous people intent on making a quick buck by exploiting big-hearted animal lovers. And let’s face it—we can be easy marks! When it comes to our pets, it’s hard not to think with our hearts. But whether you’re shopping around for a new furry family member in person or online, searching for a lost pet, or communicating with someone who wants money up-front, please keep in mind the old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

If you have been a victim of a pet scam, please consider helping others avoid being cheated by sharing your story. To tell us what happened, email [email protected].

Facebook Marketplace Scam

Having had no luck at all with some rescue services (they didn't call back after I filed a lengthy application), I decided to look for puppies online. As we were moving to a new place that allowed dogs, I wanted to purchase a Pug for my daughter. My wife found an ad on Facebook Marketplace. I contacted the person, who was supposed to be only an hour and a half away.

I found out the person was actually in Seattle (or so she claimed). She sent me lots of pictures of the puppies and promised to send lots of extras with them. She told me that she would sell me both of the pups for $700, which was a good price, or so I thought. I offered to send the money via PayPal but she insisted on Western Union. I didn't think anything of it at first. I started to get wary when the money was going to Virginia, but went ahead anyway. Here is where it starts to get interesting.

She or the made-up company that was supposed to ship the pups sent me an email saying that I needed to pay $2,000 for the pet insurance. They said it would be reimbursed when the pups were delivered. I sent this money. I was promised the pups would arrive late that night. They never did. Instead, they asked for even MORE money which I refused to pay. It was then that I finally realized I had been scammed (serves me right for not reading all my ASPCA newsletters!).

I contacted Facebook Marketplace and they shut them down. I do periodically check there to see if they have the nerve to pop up again, and they do! I also contacted the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the local police, the FBI, state attorney general and FTC, and nothing has been done about it (that I know of).

As stupid as I feel for allowing myself to get scammed out of $2,700, I feel really angry that I'm not the only one. There are lots of people out there I have read about that were scammed for more than I was. Please, do NOT buy from these people. If you see them somewhere online and it sounds like a pet scam, it probably is. Report them to the website they are on right away.

Online African Grey Parrot Scam

If it wasn't for my wit and caution, my dad would have been a victim. It started out with my dad telling me to email three people about African Grey Parrots, and one answered very fast. He told us that he had lost his wife and would charge us $400 for a parrot. He asked us questions and they seemed reasonable to ask.

The second email was strange—all of sudden his typing was off and he wasn't forming clear sentences. Countless times we tried telling him to call us by phone and asking him for his phone number, but he never said anything. I thought that was weird.

In the third email, he told us he was going to put the birds in a pet delivery service. We were happy to hear that we were close to having the birds, but the last email revealed this as a scam. He sent us a fake pet delivery service email: I could see it was just typing, colored fonts and fake pictures. I clicked though to the pet delivery website but saw that the site was copied. Also, he had tried to tell us to send money through Western Union. We were luckily not victims, and I hope this story will help others.
—Jessica

Free to Good Home Scam

Last month I started searching for a Yorkshire Terrier to adopt. I started emailing different adoption centers I found on PetFinder and local ads online. A few days later I received an email from a woman named Tiffany, stating that she had three Yorkies in need of homes. Tiffany’s email basically said that she adopted the dogs from a friend, but could no longer take care of them. She said that if I filled out the application, I could adopt them for free. I filled out the form and was approved—all I had to do was send $150 to cover the cost of shipping. Tiffany lived in Georgia and I was in Ohio, so it made sense.

I soon received an email from PetFlyers—the airline that would supposedly be flying the dog to me. It stated that all the flight information would be emailed once I sent the money via MoneyGram. Tiffany contacted me, and said that her brother worked for Petflyers and that it would be easier to send him the money directly—so I did. The next day, PetFlyers emailed requesting an additional $420 for a dog crate—that the one Tiffany supplied was not in good condition. At that point, I started doing some research and found out that PetFlyers did not even have a website. So I sent an email requesting that the manager call me.

A few hours later, I received a call from a man. His first words to me were "you send my money yet?" Well, I knew at this point I had been scammed. I contacted MoneyGram and was lucky to get my $150 back. I wanted to share my story so no one else falls for this scam.
—Nicole, Ohio

Nigerian Puppy Scam

It was over my morning coffee that I saw the perfect ad:
FREE Yorkie Puppy In Need of Home.
Nancy is the perfect puppy. She has a wonderful disposition and loves children. Vet checked with all up to date shots and worming. AKC reg and DNA certificate. Contact at (...).

I was excited about the idea of bringing Nancy home, so I sent an email. I immediately received a response from the owner—a man claiming to be a missionary stationed in Africa. I could have the puppy if I promised a loving home and sent $500 to cover the shipping fees.

I corresponded for an entire week with this man who claimed to be a missionary in Nigeria. I actually spoke with him on the phone over 25 times! He said all the right things and asked me all the right questions. Once I was comfortable with the arrangement, I sent money to cover shipping and handling to an address in Nigeria and I was told the dog would arrive in several weeks. Once I sent the code for the money transfer, I never heard from ‘the pastor’ again.

I just assumed that an ad published on our local paper's website was legitimate. I had already fallen in love with Nancy—I just can’t believe it was all a swindle. Everyone, remember you can't always trust what you hear, read, see, etc. My love and longing for a teacup Yorkie preceded my common sense. Right now I'm more heartbroken than worried about the money.
—Diane, Ohio

“Lost Pet” Scam

My parents were bringing in groceries when their cat, Baby, slipped out the door. Newspaper ads, flyers, posts to an online lost-and-found board and constant calling throughout the neighborhood brought no results for weeks. Then one day Mom got a call from a fellow who said that he had recently moved—and when he opened his moving truck, a cat who looked just like Baby jumped out. Mom wired him $300 to cover the cost of flying Baby back to Florida. The wired funds were picked up, but the cat never arrived. It is sad to think there are people out there who prey on the elderly.
—Katie, Ohio

Cameroon Military Base Scam

My mom has always wanted a teacup Yorkie, so I found myself looking online for one. I found multiple people online claiming to be on a U.S. military base in Cameroon. They all offered a free Yorkie puppy—complete with papers, food, treats, collar, leash, etc. All I had to do was pay the shipping fee, which ranged from $150 to $500. These scammers will email you, talk to you on the phone and send you all the pictures you want. As soon as you make the mistake of sending them the money, they disappear, never to be heard from again. I made this mistake, and my sister made this mistake. Please warn others so they don't make it, too!
—Theresa, California

Nigerian Puppy Scam

My son, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, went on the Internet to find a bulldog. He wanted one desperately and had been saving money for a long time. He finally found an ad and began emailing with a man from Nigeria. The man explained that he had a puppy who needed a home and would only charge my son the shipping fees. It sounded perfect. My son received the most adorable photos of the puppy—the dog was exactly what he had been dreaming about. So he sent the money to the man via Western Union. Then the Nigerian man called and said the puppy had been picked up at the border and was being held in jail. He needed more money to get the puppy out. He then said there was a second puppy, and that my son should send money to rescue her, too. When my son realized this was a scam, he was devastated! He was very sick at the time. I tried talking to the man on the phone many times, telling him the situation with my son and his illness and asking for the money back—but he didn’t care. It is so sad that someone can be so cruel. He smashed my son’s dreams.
—Dorothy, Montana

Nigerian Puppy Scam

I, like many others, fell for the Nigerian puppy scam. While searching the Web for a puppy, I was contacted by a lady claiming to be a missionary recently transferred to Nigeria. She said she didn't want her Yorkie puppy exposed to all the illnesses there, and was looking for a loving home to place her in. The puppy was free—all she wanted was $300 to cover the shipping costs. I immediately sent the money through Western Union and emailed the woman the confirmation code. That’s when a problem occurred. The lady told me that the puppy didn't pass USDA certification and that I needed to send another $500 to get the proper certification. Needless to say, the conversation turned real sour. I knew I had been scammed and was not very happy. After I told her what I thought of her, she changed her contact info so I couldn't reach her again.
—Jen, Georgia

Pet Store Scam

My family and I went looking for a puppy several years ago. While we weren't sure what breed or size we wanted, we had all the means to love and care for a dog. Once we arrived at the pet store, it didn't take long for us to spot a female German shepherd puppy—she was so friendly, energetic and beautiful. We played with her and fell in love. We purchased her along with a ton of toys, food and goodies—we spent a total of $900!

The next day, when taking Taz out to go potty, I noticed her stool was moving—she had an extremely severe case of worms. What we thought was a cute puppy belly was actually a bulge caused by the worms in her intestines. The vet also informed us that Taz had hip dysplasia! We were not informed of this at the pet store, where they had assured us that she had been checked by a vet only a week before.

When we went to the store to inform them of these health conditions, they offered to take Taz back and give us a refund. After bonding with this puppy for four days, giving her up was not an option. After some arguments, the store finally gave us a $500 gift card. A nice gesture, but it certainly wouldn’t pay for the health care and surgery she would need later in life.

We now enjoy the company of two pooches. Our next one came from an animal control clinic in Chicago. He had been abused, yet he was in better condition than our $500 pet store dog! While we love them both completely, we will never buy a dog from a pet store again.
—Cassandra, Illinois

Facebook Puppy Scam

My boyfriend and I had been looking for an English bulldog when we found an ad on Facebook —“Adorable English bulldog free to good home.” When I contacted the owner, he claimed to be a missionary in Nigeria helping sick children and didn’t have time for the puppy. I only had to pay the shipping fee of $500. I was a bit confused because Facebook said he lived in Tennessee, not Nigeria. I began to wonder if this was a scam.

The next day, he sent me an email claiming to have just dropped the puppy off at the airport, even though I never confirmed that I was adopting her. I knew it was definitely a scam at this point. He never even asked me where the dog would be landing! I emailed him and told him I knew what he was trying to do and I never heard from him again.
—Megan, New Jersey